Security Theater: Engineer Shows TSA Nude Scanners are Useless, Sues TSA
March 7, 2012 1:08 PM
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(Source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Warner Bros.)
Scanner couldn't even perform as well as a basic metal detector, but it's good at looking at your genitals
Body scanners are a controversial tool that's currently being installed at airports worldwide -- particularly in the U.S., where the government has paid contractors such as Rapiscan and Brijot hundreds of millions of dollars to deploy over 500 of the devices. In the U.S. the deployment has reportedly been pushed by illicit financial ties, such as former
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
's (DHS) chief Michael Chertoff's financial relationship with Rapiscan, who
paid off the chief
for his "consulting services."
Ex-DHS chief Michael Chertoff accepted payments from Rapiscan, even as he was promoting paying the contractor millions of dollars in body scanner contracts. [Image Source: DHS]
Meanwhile, there have been reports of
U.S. Transportation Safety Administration
(TSA) officials abusing the devices to
make fun of peoples' genitals
. And reports
also indicate health risks
and the possibility that the DHS may be
storing nudes scans of people
for later reference.
But the most damning piece of evidence against the scanners yet may have just landed, delivered by college-educated engineer Jonathan Corbett, who runs the blog "
TSA Out of Our Pants
Mr. Corbett has identified a weakness in the device, which essentially renders them useless. He noticed that both the older backscatter machines and the new millimeter wave scanners, chose the color of spotted solid objects as identitical to the background, allowing techs to spot items hidden against the body (colorized as white), such as weapons or bomb-making chemicals. So he decided to see what happened if a secret pocket was stitched into a shirt, well off of the body.
Body scanners rely solely on contrast -- making them useless if the weapon or bomb-making supply is held off the body, tests have shown. [Image Source: TSA]
He tested the theory using a metal case stored inside a secret pocket. Had he put the object in his chest pocket, it would have been spotted in the scans and he would almost certainly have been detained. But by using the secret side pocket, which was not contrasted in the image against his body, he eluded both the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's backscatter machine and the Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport's newest millimeter wave machine.
to top UK news site
, "While I carried the metal case empty, it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives, or one of Charlie Sheen’s infamous seven gram rocks of cocaine. With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through."
The metal case would have been detected by the old security checkpoint of a decade ago, as it had metal-detectors. However, the new checkpoints largely have no built-in metal detection of on-person objects, relying solely on full-body scanners and occasional pat-downs (which Mr. Corbett did not receive).
Cleverly, Mr. Corbett video-taped his clean scan, by putting his camera, running, on the conveyor belt and allowing it to travel through luggage X-Ray scan, spotting him on his way out.
Jonathan Corbett -- an engineer-turned blogger -- has presented compelling evidence that body scanners decrease security and are ineffective at fighting terrorism. He is suing the TSA
[Image Source: Jonathan Corbett/Mail Online]
"Now, I'm sure the TSA will accuse me of aiding the terrorists by releasing this video, but it's beyond belief that the terrorists haven't already figured this out and are already plotting to use this against us. It’s also beyond belief that the TSA did not already know everything I just told you, and arrogantly decided to disregard our safety. The nude body scanner program is nothing but a giant fraud."
In the past it was shown that less-dense objects like plastic guns or low-density explosives
could be missed in backscatter images
. However, this is the first compelling proof that millimeter wave designs are also useless -- another prop in the government's expensive game of "security theater" -- a game that has been potentially motivated by financial corruption.
Mr. Corbett recalls thinking when he first envisioned the work-around, "It can't possibly be that easy to beat the TSA’s billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can't be that stupid, can they?"
Summarizing his findings, he comments, "Unfortunately, they can, and they are."
An engineer has offered evidence that the TSA and DHS have recklessly endangered hundreds of thousands of Americans by promoting a false illusion of security with body scanners.
[Image Source: Corbis]
The TSA has refused to comment on these developments.
Video of the incident can be found here:
Google Inc.'s (
) YouTube (the host) has rated this video 18+ as per its "
", although it does not contain any profanity or any ostensibly inappropriate content.
Other threats to the effectiveness of the devices are also looming. Recently, terrorists in Saudi Arabia have resorted to increasingly complex methods for disguising improvised explosive devices, such as inserting bombs in their rectal cavities [
]. The question becomes whether the TSA will go as far as ordering "cavity searches" of travellers, in addition to
genital-region pat downs
of everyone from children to the elderly.
The embarassment for the TSA and DHS -- and the Bush and Obama administrations that supported the scanner rollout -- is unlikely to fade any time soon, though. Mr. Corbett has taken the bold move of
[PDF] the TSA for the scanner rollout, which he complains was a waste of money that decreased security versus traditional metal detectors and pat-downs.
TSA Out of Our Pants [press release]
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"Relies on contrast"
3/7/2012 6:26:48 PM
I'm disappointed at encountering such a technical misstatement on a tech-themed news site. The machines themselves do not rely on contrast for anything. Only the visualization produced by the machine does that. In terms of the scanner itself, a metallic object will produce a distinct physical reading no matter where it is placed.
So the only real problem is that some idiot decided to make the color for "empty space" be exactly the same color as "solid object". If they just made the "solid object" color red or something (or the background light-blue, or whatever), then it would no longer be possible to defeat the machines this way.
Anyhow, I'm not defending the full body scanners, nor the culture of fear that led to their use. I think they're idiotic and I hope this guy succeeds in his lawsuit. However I don't like seeing technical inaccuracies, especially on a tech site. The flaw that was exploited is purely one of poor visualization, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the underlying scanner technology. It could, in fact, probably be fixed with a simple firmware update to existing machines to change how they visualize the data coming in off the scanner.
RE: "Relies on contrast"
3/8/2012 7:06:49 AM
The bigger idiot is the ones walking through the scanners.
You don't have to do what you're told to do. You do realise this. Technical aspects not withstanding.
RE: "Relies on contrast"
3/8/2012 10:44:59 AM
I will always asked to be pat down instead.
No need to see my small penis.
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